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Do you ever go through periods of feeling expansive and extroverted followed by a stretch of being more contracted and introverted? A swing between wanting to be sociable and generally less willing to put yourself “out there”?
I’ve noticed that I fluctuate between these states quite often. Whereas in the past, I would judge the more expansive energy as “positive” and the more contracted energy as “negative,” I’ve come to understand that both are important and needed in equal measure. The introverted times are when I reflect, consider possible life changes, create space for myself, and contemplate creative ideas. When I experience more expansive energy, I put my plans into motion, network, and ask for advice.
Virabhadrasana III (Warrior 3) offers a physical expression of the synergy found between these opposing energies. Finding balance between these actions can help you realize that contraction is just as critical as expansion in terms of finding strength and balance in the pose. And they can, in fact, take place at the same time.
The traditional shape of the pose asks you to balance on one leg and, at the same time, lean your body forward and create a line that’s horizontal to the mat. Your arms and legs contract and you engage your core to draw it toward your center while simultaneously extending your arms and lifted leg in opposite directions.
Warrior 3 also strengthens both your standing leg and your lifted leg, works on core stability, strengthens the shoulders, and helps you hone your concentration, stamina, and proprioception or spatial awareness. But you can achieve these same benefits—and explore that balance of energy—in other iterations of the pose.
The following variations allow you to explore the shape and actions of Warrior 3 while also being respectful of your needs, strength, injuries, confidence, and mood.
5 ways to practice Warrior 3
Practice Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose), Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge), High Lunge, and Parsovottanasana (Intense Side Stretch) to prepare your legs for this pose. Plank Pose and Paripurna Navasana (Boat Pose) will help prepare your core. Practice Utkatasana (Chair Pose) and Virabhadrasana II (Warrior 2) to warm up your arms. And you can start to steady your balance in poses such as Three-Legged Dog and Standing Splits.
1. Warrior 3 with blocks beneath your hands
Placing your hands on foam blocks can be a tremendous assist for your balance. This variation also accommodates less range of movement in the shoulder joints for those of us who experience tightness there. Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) and place 2 foam blocks a couple of feet in front of you. Bring your hands to your hips and hinge forward. Reach down to place your hands to the blocks. Keep your hips facing the mat as you lift your right leg behind you until it is in line with the rest of your body. Keep a slight bend in your standing knee to keep the muscles engaged. Focus your gaze on a point on the floor a couple of feet in front of the blocks. As you reach your arms forward and your lifted leg back, think about drawing them inward toward the center of your body without actually moving them. At the same time, reach the crown of your head and your right foot in opposite directions.
2. Warrior 3 in front of a chair
Place a chair 3 or 4 feet away from you with the back of the chair facing you. Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) and hinge forward at your hips as you reach forward to take hold of the back of the chair. Keep your hips facing the mat as you lift your right leg behind you.
3. Inclined Warrior 3
Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) and reach your arms alongside your ears. Hinge at your hips and fold forward approximately 45 degrees so your your arms reach toward the wall in front of you where it meets the ceiling. Keep your hips facing forward as you lift your right leg behind you until it creates a straight line your torso and arms. Look at a fixed point on the floor several feet in front of you. You have the option to place a chair a couple of feet in front of you and start to lower yourself from an incline, placing your hands on the chair for support as you start to lower yourself closer to horizontal.
4. Warrior 3 with a strap
Using a yoga strap helps you explore the dynamic between the expanding and contracting energies of the pose—it forces you to reach your lifted foot away at the same time as the strap pulls the leg toward you. I find that using a strap also makes it easier to balance in the pose.
Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), bend your right knee, and loop the strap over the back of your right heel. Hold one end of the strap in each hand. Hinge forward at your hips and pull the strap taut as you lift your right leg behind you and push your heel away from you. Keep your arms alongside your body. Aim to have your torso and lifted leg horizontal as you focus your gaze a couple of feet in front of you.
5. Warrior 3 on the floor
Practicing this balancing pose closer to the floor and steadying yourself with your hands allows you to familiarize yourself with the shape of the pose and experience similar muscle engagement. Start in Tabletop position and keep your hips facing the mat as you lift your right leg behind you until it is in line with your hips. Place a folded blanket under your left knee if you need some cushioning. You can keep the palms of your hands on the mat, make fists with your hands, or raise your left arm alongside your ear until it’s in line with your right leg. Focus your gaze on a point on the floor a couple of feet in front of you.
About our contributor
Andrew McGonigle has studied anatomy for more than 20 years. After initially studying to become a doctor, he moved away from Western medicine to become a yoga and anatomy teacher. He shares his knowledge of the body and the ways it moves in yoga teacher training courses throughout the world and leads his own Yoga Anatomy Online Course. His second book, The Physiology of Yoga, was published in June 2022. To learn more about Andrew, check out doctor-yogi.com or follow him on Instagram @doctoryogi.